Danielle Jones, Medical Student – the MDigitalLife Interview

Posted by: in Healthcare Insights, MDigitalLife on September 21, 2012

#MDigitalLife is a WCG program designed to learn from and to showcase physicians who are blazing new trails in the digital world – changing the way that medicine is practiced and better health is realized.  You can find previous posts here.

“I do interact with patients online (though not my own, of course) … I like to hear the stories about health issues they’re facing, and to follow their journeys … It helps me to understand what patients expect – or at least hope for – from their doctors.”

Danielle Jones, M4 (Medical Student), 4th Year

We’ve focused a great deal in this series on the role that physicians play in educating their patients.  But Danielle Jones, a 4th year medical student at Texas Tech, had a lot more to say about how patients have been educating her. “We’re all patients at some point in our lives – we’re not just doctors and med students.”

Danielle was an early adopter of twitter (she opened an account at the advice of her husband, who works in technology and had picked up quickly on the potential of the tool).  She’s always been passionate about fertility issues, and soon realized that Twitter was used actively by patients who were going through IVF treatments.  As she listened to their conversations, she began to understand their experience more clearly … and then to extrapolate how valuable that understanding could be as a physician.

Our twitter-using readers will know that it can be a place that’s very much about talking – often to the point of self-aggrandizing.  But Danielle recognized that it was an incredible place to listen and understand – and to engage with others. “I don’t use my twitter account solely for medicine.  I like to use it for people who interact.  It’s not necessarily about people who write a great blog or are skilled marketers – it’s about people who are willing to have an engaging conversation.”

In Danielle’s case, that engagement might be about DIY home repairs, or design, or furniture restoration. But more and more often, it is about medicine – and the changing relationship between doctors and patients.

“Patients aren’t going to come into the exam room and tell you that they’re frustrated because you’re 30 minutes late and will only spend 5 minutes with them.  But they’ll tell twitter. Sometimes we get so involved with the medical aspect of being doctors, we forget that there was once this whole world that we didn’t understand.  The doctor’s experience is an abstraction to a patient – they don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.  It’s a good reminder of what things were like for us before we started studying medicine.”

Danielle Jones

Twitter also became a place where she could learn from other physicians who were exploring the potential of social media as a mechanism for becoming more effective doctors.  She’s had a lot of wonderful influences that started on twitter, including (but definitely not limited to) the following:

  • Bryan Vartabedian and Wendy Sue Swanson – “They are two of my favorites.  They’re really active and engaging and share great information.”
  • Daniel Kraft – “He’s so sharp – I’ve had an opportunity to meet him, and came away really impressed.”
  • Natasha Burgert – “She shares really great information – but she’s also so down-to-earth and genuine that people really respond to her.  That’s inspiring.”
  • Nick Bennett – “He’s done some guest-blogging on Mind on Med (he did a series about Medical Education in other countries). Some of his articles on my blog have gotten more traffic than mine, and he’s always incredibly responsive to comments and questions.”
  • Natalie Silvy – “She’s a med student in the UK who co-founded a twitter-based journal club, and has written about medical education on my blog.”
  • Brittany Chan – “Brittany and I go to medical school together, and she’s my partner in crime in terms of advocating for social media.”

When Danielle started medical school, she found that there was so much reading and studying that it didn’t provide many outlets for creativity.  As a result, she decided to start blogging.  Her blog, Mind on Med, was never designed to be a “marketing piece.”  It was always about having a place to express herself – on almost any subject.  But it picked up a quick following, and it wasn’t long before people started to take an interest in her perspective.  She was selected from a pool of applicants to be a reviewer for Iltifat Hussain‘s iMedicalApps.  And Doximity, an emergent physician’s community – asked her to join them as an advisor relative to reaching medical students.  That led to an invitation to join a Doximity-sponsored conference in California – and to sit on a panel with none other than Wendy Sue Swanson and Bryan Vartabedian.  “I felt about 2 inches tall sitting next to these two people who’d had such a great influence on me.  It was an incredible honor to be able to spend that time with them.”

Danielle has consciously avoided promoting her blog among her fellow med students – though some of them have mentioned to her that they read it.  And nearly all of them have been positive about the notoriety it’s gained her with iMedicalApps and Doximity.  But it also caused her to gain the notice of the medical school administration.  When Danielle started medical school, the only mentions of social media were cautionary tales – “Don’t share patient information!  You could go to jail or get kicked out of school!”  That differs pretty widely from her own viewpoint, which she articulated brilliantly here, in her post entitled, “What Medical School Doesn’t Teach Us.”

The Dean of the medical school knew that there was more to it than that – and asked for Danielle and Brittany to join an advisory board on social networking. The board is working on creating a social-media-friendly set of guidelines for medical students, and hopes eventually to have some curriculum elements adapted to be more even-handed in portraying the potential of social media. That role prompted a sponsored trip to the Stanford MedicineX conference (the brainchild of Larry Chu, MD being held this year from September 28-30th in Palo Alto).  Danielle and Brittany are hoping to be able to come back to school with some great new ideas and case studies that will move the mission forward.

With all of the well-received recognition Danielle has received for her work in social media, it may not surprise you that she plans to continue it through her residency, internship and into professional practice. But it has surprised a lot of people in the medical community.  As I’ve come to understand it, the process for applying for residency is something like rushing a sorority at a Texas state college – on steroids#.  And the conventional wisdom is that you shouldn’t do anything that’d rock the boat for you during the application process.  Many med students are counseled to shut down all of their social media accounts until the process is complete, lest something that they’ve done might rub an interviewer the wrong way.

When one of her fellow students asked Danielle when she planned to shut down her blog prior to the residency application process, she was shocked.  And not a little bit offended. That emotion prompted her to write a piece called, “5 Reasons Danielle Jones and Mind on Med Won’t Disappear during Interviews.”  That post got a lot of attention in the medical community – especially after it was picked up by the leading blog in medicine – Kevin Pho’s KevinMD.

It’s good to know that conventional wisdom isn’t going to hold Danielle back.  Her view of the doctor-patient relationship may just be the template for the future. As the gulf between patients and physicians has done nothing but expand for the last 30 years, Danielle is bridging it – though she’d never claim that distinction.  Not everyone involved in infertility discussions online welcomes a medical student into their midst.  But most are really pleased that a future physician would care enough about what they’re going through to join them.  Danielle has had a chance to cry with women who’ve lost a pregnancy, celebrate with those who’ve become moms, and encourage those who’ve had to endure setbacks and disappointments along the way.

 “I don’t know that I really thought about how beneficial it’d be to connect with these folks online.  But once I started interacting with them, I was just blown away.  Infertility is one of those things that just takes over a person’s life. They need to be able to talk about it with people who care … and it’s so hard to really hard to understand someone’s journey until you’ve gone through it with them. These people share so much of their lives with one another, and I’m incredibly grateful that they’ve allowed me to share that experience with them.”

Would you want Danielle Jones to be your doctor?  I would.

You can keep up with Danielle here:

  • Blog: MindOnMed.com – I haven’t mentioned it yet, but one of the reasons that Danielle’s blog has achieved such popularity is that it’s both thoughtful and funny as hell.  Consider it a must-read.
  • Twitter: @DanielleNJones

By: Greg Matthews

Greg Matthews is the the creator and Managing Director of the W2O Group's MDigitalLife - Understanding, Engaging and Activating Physicians in the Digital Age

Find me on: Twitter
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